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Calgary Board of Education Danielle Smith Jennifer Pollock Judy Tilston Liz LoVecchio Peggy Anderson Teresa Woo-Paw

smith v. board of education (part 1)

This post is the first of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

Since the selection of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, a number of readers have suggested that I take a closer look at her time as a Trustee with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) from 1998 to 1999. Not completely knowing what I would discover as I dug through the ProQuest archives, I uncovered what I consider to be a collection some of the most bizarre shenanigans that I have ever seen from Canadian elected officials. My sources largely included articles published by the Calgary Herald and the National Post.

In the first of a multi-part series that will be posted over the next week, here is a summary of what I found:

October 19, 1998: The face of the long-time Liberal-dominated CBE was changed with the election of two new conservative trustees. Elected on the joint platform “Campaign to Make Public Education Work,” Peggy Anderson and Danielle Smith advocated for fiscal prudence and more parent choice, including Charter schools. Both had strong ties to the Reform Party as Anderson was a constituency assistant to Calgary-Southeast Reform MP Jason Kenney and Preston Manning; and Smith, then 27-years old, had interned with the Fraser Institute and was the Executive Director of the Canadian Property Rights Institute (pdf).

Other trustees elected that year included liberals Jennifer Pollock, Judy Tilston, and Liz LoVecchio, and moderates Teresa Woo-Paw, and Lynn Nishimura. In their previous terms, incumbents Tilston and Pollock had publicly clashed with provincial government over school board autonomy and funding.

October 20, 1998: Following the election, a Herald editorial described the CBE as:

‘…a board coping with financial woes, ongoing feuding with the province, the allocation and utilization of scarce resources, the pressure from parents to provide more alternatives under the umbrella of the public system and the need to raise standards and improve the quality of education.

The Calgary public school board’s new roster of trustees has a wonderful opportunity before it to set an example for the community at large by demonstrating an open-mindedness to look for alternative solutions while fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and collegiality.’

October 27, 1998: Woo-Paw was selected as chair and LoVecchio as vice-chair. Former chair Tilston declined re-nomination. Smith told the Calgary Herald that:

“I look forward to a year of thorough debate . . . within a diversity of opinion.”

December 4, 1998: Due to budget and resource pressures, Tilston suggested sharing space with Calgary’s Catholic Schools. Smith supported the idea of sharing space with community groups, but told the Herald that she though that “the Catholic board has some legitimate concerns,” about “moral decisions” made by the public CBE.

December 6, 1998: Smith proposed the closure of up to 30 schools due to excess space in older, inner-city classrooms. Smith suggested that the money earned from selling or leasing older schools could be used to build new schools and stem the exodus of public school students to Catholic, private, charter and home schooling. Contradicting Smith, LoVecchio told the Herald that she didn’t “know where she’s getting her numbers,” explaining that when a CBE facility is leased to a non-profit group or private school, the Department of Education excludes those students from the board’s utilization rate.

December 7, 1998: Calgary Herald editorial:

‘Trustee Danielle Smith’s contention that the CBE will close schools and then lease the buildings is also fatally flawed. Even if such buildings are rented to day cares, private schools or other users, Alberta Education still applies the space against the CBE balance sheet, but not the students. Previous decisions to lease old schools instead of sell them has simply exacerbated the CBE’s poor utilization rate.

No matter how hard trustees try to wiggle around it, there’s only one solution — some schools must close.’

This post is the first of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

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